Budget 2009: A crisis gone to waste
Credit where it’s due, Rahm Emmanuel masterfully pinched the jam-tomorrow glee of some nuttier revolutionaries when he said, “Never allow a crisis to go to waste, they are opportunities to do big things.” That is precisely what Alistair Darling has done with the new budget. The crisis has gone to waste as the clock runs down on a Labour term of office. No mighty reforms to banking, more of the same tokenistic gestures (e.g. the £200 million to be raised by a 50% income tax band) and little else.
I’m probably being a bit too harsh, since there were some very helpful measures included – on pensioners, retraining for employment and on the carers of young people – but delivered with brevity and solemnity amid the jeers from the opposition benches, a 2009 “People’s Budget” it was not. There was no watershed moment, excepting that the Labour leadership published a headline grabbing tax band whilst extending corporate subsidies through tax relief on profits for the last three years, without tying that to a promise to keep workers in jobs.
On the other hand, I’m watching people like Iain Dale getting away with calling even these limited measures reminiscent of Denis Healey’s “tax them til the pips squeak” moment. There’ll be more in a minute on Dale’s branding of Labourites as a “happy little band of envy warriors”, but in the meantime, it should be painfully clear to even the Newest of New Labourites that the leadership has lost direction and focus. This is not to do with the individuals – it’s to do with an equivocation caused by NuLab’s realisation that they’ve been essentially abandoned.
By Labour activists, by the working class, by the wealthy (to whom New Labour offered so many anti-tax or PFI carrots) and by history.
Before the budget was announced, John Band made a good joke over at Liberal Conspiracy by saying that now is the time for socialists to rejoin Labour. I damn near looked at the calendar to see if it was April 1st. The Labour Party’s internal democracy is corrupt (as if we needed Alice Mahon’s resignation letter, Erith & Thamesmead, or Calder Valley, to prove that!). The membership has been depoliticized; however abandoned Brown may be, there are still members touting David bloody Miliband or some other cabinet figures perceived as ‘more left.’
With its token populism, this budget has demonstrated that Labour’s leadership has not the inclination to turn back the clock on Labour policies. What it hasn’t demonstrated is that Labour’s leadership has lost control of the Party – in fact, it hasn’t. The same student hackery, the same policy wonkery, the same endless carousel of circle-jerking junkets is still going to produce leadership figures because it still has iron controls over parliamentary selection and over a marketing machine that invalidates internal democracy – and Conference is toothless besides.
This is why Iain Dale is so wrong; the people he might regard as “envy warriors” have nothing to be envious of, since they are themselves often rich, of an Oxbridge education and decidedly not in favour of thorough-going measures of redistribution and progressive taxation.
The people in charge of Labour are champagne socialists and their control is nigh unshakeable. No leadership battle, no economic crisis is going to change just how far individuals can get by knowing the right people and mouthing the right platitudes within the Labour Party. As the NEC’s forced deselection of Janet Oosthuysen proves, and as the selection battle between a Unison insider and the 22-year old nobody daughter of Lord Gould confirms, the future of the Labour Party is being railroaded right now.
If we are to change tack, the solution does not lie with constitutional trickery within Labour itself. The inertia of the Unions, the Reaction of the leadership, the reduction of CLPs to apolitical networks of propaganda distribution…none of this will change in a widespread and meaningful way without a sea-change in the context wherein Labour operates. That context, material and ideological, can only now be changed by organising to fight the swingeing cuts the next government will bring in – and the cuts are coming, if you believe Iain Dale’s article.
In Labour, out of Labour; the difference has now been rendered irrelevant by a continued course of massive borrowing and no structural change. Amongst all those opposed to capitalism, we’ll swim together as we arrange protests, pickets and occupations, to derail what comes next or we’ll sink together. Such weapons as we need – new media to communicate and new methods of inspiring and organising the working class – we’ll have to fashion without reference to the leadership of any political party but according to our principles.
Otherwise we’re simply asking to repeat the whole situation all over again – and, as this budget and this crisis clearly demonstrate, we can’t afford that.